Thursday, January 31, 2013

Teaching an Old Tongue New Tricks

The fate of Yiddish is something of a question mark — perhaps fitting for a culture famous for answering questions with questions.
Richard Perry/The New York Times
A view of the redesigned Web site. Forverts is the Yiddish-language sister paper of The Forward, which was founded in 1897.
Its use is popularly believed to be fading as Holocaust survivors and the people who learned Yiddish at the kitchen tables of their immigrant parents die off.
But scholars say not to write off Yiddish just yet. Many contend it has a brighter future as young people take up the language in some 30 college programs and institutes around the country. More significant, the ranks of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for whom it is the lingua franca, continue to mushroom.
It is this more sanguine outlook that explains why The Forward, the 115-year-old Jewish newspaper, is expanding its ambitions. Three decades ago, the paper trimmed back the schedule of the Yiddish-language newspaper from a daily to a weekly, and in 1990 it tried to win new readers by printing an entirely separate paper in English.
Now, encouraged by what it sees as renewed interest in Yiddish among younger people, The Forward will introduce a rejuvenated and enhanced Yiddish Web site (vebzaytl in Yiddish) on Feb. 4, complete with blogs and links to Facebook (Face-bukh). Because of a declining readership, however, the publication schedule of the print version of the Yiddish-language newspaper will be cut back to every other week.
In addition to featuring articles from the Yiddish newspaper, which the bare-bones Web site already does, the remodeled site will have a daily podcast of about 10 minutes rotating among Yiddish-speaking correspondents in Moscow, Jerusalem, Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne, Buenos Aires and New York.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Oxygen Chamber Can Boost Brain Repair

Hyperbaric treatment has significantly resuscitated activity in damaged brains, TAU researchers find

Stroke, traumatic injury, and metabolic disorder are major causes of brain damage and permanent disabilities, including motor dysfunction, psychological disorders, memory loss, and more. Current therapy and rehab programs aim to help patients heal, but they often have limited success.
Now Dr. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicinehas found a way to restore a significant amount of neurological function in brain tissue thought to be chronically damaged — even years after initial injury. Theorizing that high levels of oxygen could reinvigorate dormant neurons, Dr. Efrati and his fellow researchers, including Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU'sSchool of Physics and Astronomy and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, recruited post-stroke patients for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) — sessions in high pressure chambers that contain oxygen-rich air — which increases oxygen levels in the body tenfold.
Analysis of brain imaging showed significantly increased neuronal activity after a two-month period of HBOT treatment compared to control periods of non-treatment, reported Dr. Efrati in PLoS ONE. Patients experienced improvements such as a reversal of paralysis, increased sensation, and renewed use of language. These changes can make a world of difference in daily life, helping patients recover their independence and complete tasks such as bathing, cooking, climbing stairs, or reading a book.
Oxygen breathes new life into neurons
According to Dr. Efrati, there are several degrees of brain injury. Neurons impacted by metabolic dysfunction have the energy to stay alive, but not enough to fire electric signals, he explains. HBOT aims to increase the supply of energy to these cells.
The brain consumes 20 percent of the body's oxygen, but that is only enough oxygen to operate five to ten percent of neurons at any one time. The regeneration process requires much more energy. The tenfold increase in oxygen levels during HBOT treatment supplies the necessary energy for rebuilding neuronal connections and stimulating inactive neurons to facilitate the healing process, explains Dr. Efrati.
For their study, the researchers sought post stroke patients whose condition was no longer improving. To assess the potential impact of HBOT treatment, the anatomical features and functionality of the brain were evaluated using a combination of CT scans to identify necrotic tissue, and SPECT scans to determine the metabolic activity level of the neurons surrounding damaged areas.
Seventy-four participants spanning 6 to 36 months post-stroke were divided into two groups. The first treatment group received HBOT from the beginning of the study, and the second received no treatment for two months, then received a two-month period of HBOT treatment. Treatment consisted of 40 two-hour sessions five times weekly in high pressure chambers containing oxygen-rich air. The results indicate that HBOT treatment can lead to significant improvement in brain function in post stroke patients even at chronically late stages, helping neurons strengthen and build new connections in damaged regions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Report: Hamas leader Mashaal seeking presidency of PLO

'Al-Quds Al-Arabi' quotes Palestinian sources as saying several Arab states, led by Jordan and Qatar, are pushing for Mashaal to chair the PLO as a way of getting Hamas to sign the Oslo Accords and recognize Israel.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is seeking to take over the presidency of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, currently chaired by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the London-Based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported on Monday.

According to the report, Mashaal's desire to chair the PLO is behind his decision not to stand for reelection to his position as chairman of Hamas's Political Bureau.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi quoted Palestinian sources as saying several Arab states, led by Jordan and Qatar, are pushing for Mashaal to chair the PLO as a way of getting Hamas to sign the Oslo Accords and recognize Israel.

The report added that Mashaal's meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah on Monday was part of the regional effort to spur the resumption of peace talks which would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines with agreed upon land swaps. King Abdullah was seeking a commitment from Hamas to accept such an agreement.

Mashaal and other Hamas leaders were expelled from Jordan and stripped of their Jordanian citizenship more than a decade ago. But over the past 18 months, Jordan has moved toward restoring its relations with Hamas, allowing Mashaal and some of his top aides to visit the kingdom on at least three occasions.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Why I Voted for Yair Lapid

The centrist’s simple but emotionally profound Zionism could lead to an Israel less at war with itself

When Yair Lapid’s father, the well-known journalist and politician Tommy Lapid, was on his deathbed, he said to his son: I’m leaving you the state of Israel.

Tommy, a Holocaust survivor, meant that metaphorically; the generation of survivors was entrusting the gift of a Jewish state to its children. But with the rise of Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), which emerged from nowhere to become Israel’s second-largest party in yesterday’s election, Yair’s “inheritence” could become literal. More than any other politician aside from Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, Yair may now determine the next phase of Israeli politics.

“Yair,” not Lapid: We call our politicians Bibi and Shelly and Tzipi with a misleading intimacy, when in fact we can’t bear most of them. But even Israelis who wrongly dismiss him as a lightweight—a former TV talk show host and heart-throb, with no government or combat experience—tend to like Yair.

That’s because he is frankly, unapologetically, in love with the state of Israel. There is nothing complicated about Yair’s Israeliness. He is not a hyphenated Israeli, whose loyalty to the state depends on its fulfillment of an ideological agenda. Yair conveys the impression of a man comfortable in all parts of Israel. He is a secular Israeli who has shown increasing interest in Judaism. He supports a two-state solution and opposes settlement construction outside the large settlement blocs. Yet he launched his campaign from the West Bank city of Ariel, sending the message that settlers are part of Israel too. He opposes the wholesale draft exemption of ultra-Orthodox young men, but he advocates a gradualist approach and has an ultra-Orthodox rabbi on his Knesset list. He emerged as the voice of middle class disaffection, yet included in his list two Ethiopians, representatives of one of the country’s poorest constituencies. (Other parties tend to include a token Ethiopian.)

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Friday, January 25, 2013

The ‘Nature’ of Jews

On Tu B’Shevat, Jews celebrate the natural world. Do we praise it for its own sake, or only as a reflection of God?

In his masterpiece “Tintern Abbey,” poet William Wordsworth recalls his passionate younger self, obsessed with nature:
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
their colors and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love.
Could a Jewish poet have written these imperishable lines? Although literary critic Lionel Trilling once wrote an essay finding affinities between Wordsworth and the rabbis, it is hard to imagine the mostly nature-indifferent rabbis responding to this passionate effusion. Nature, in rabbinic writings, exists mostly to settle questions of law (can an elephant serve as the side of a sukkah?), or mythological speculations of wonder—such as the tales of Rabbah bar Hannah, which speak of a bird so big that the waters of the sea only reached to its ankles. But this is not reverence for nature; it is the extravagance of a God-besotted imagination.
When they were moved to celebrate the created world, Jewish poets wrote of it as reflected glory. Nature was the prism through which God’s artistry could be seen. Tu B’Shevat, which falls this year on Jan. 25-26, is the holiday when Jews typically sing their praises of the natural world. But the holiday does not recognize Wordsworth’s nature, glorious in its own, self-contained radiance.

When the Psalmist writes of nature, it is theological or didactic: “The mountains skipped like rams” (Psalms 114:4); “the righteous will flourish like a palm tree” (Psalms 92:12). Nature, for the ancient Jewish poets, cannot be loved for its own sake. In the conclusion to the Book of Job, God describes the majesty of the world, recalling ma’aseh bereishit, the act of creation. Nature is beautifully described through its obedience to the Creator and indifference to the moral laws that human beings assume govern all life. Wordsworth, on the other hand, cherishes the scene itself, although he does feel
a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man
The woods and fields may be a showplace of spirit, but here is unqualified reverence for the “wild green landscape.” In solitude, Wordsworth approaches fellow poet Byron’s famous assertion that he loved not man the less, but nature the more.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Right and left blocs split evenly in Israeli elections final vote tally

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party.
JERUSALEM -- A badly weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians after Israel's parliamentary election produced a stunning deadlock.

The results defied forecasts that Israel's next government would veer sharply to the right at a time when the country faces mounting international isolation, growing economic problems and regional turbulence. While that opens the door to unexpected movement on peace efforts, a coalition joining parties with dramatically divergent views on peacemaking, the economy and the military draft could just as easily be headed for gridlock – and perhaps a short life.

Israeli media said that with nearly all votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament's 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties that traditionally are excluded from coalition building.

A surprising strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, in Tuesday's vote turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt a setback to Netanyahu. Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid, has said he would only join a government committed to sweeping economic changes and a serious push to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, which have languished throughout Netanyahu's four-year tenure.

The results were not official, and the final bloc breakdowns could shift before the central elections committee finishes its tally early Thursday. With the blocs so evenly divided, there remains a remote possibility that Netanyahu would not form the next government, even though both he and Lapid have called for the creation of a broad coalition.

Under Israel's parliamentary system, voters cast ballots for parties, not individual candidates. Because no party throughout Israel's 64-year history has ever won an outright majority of parliamentary seats, the country has always been governed by coalitions. Traditionally, the party that wins the largest number of seats is given the first chance to form a governing alliance in negotiations that center around promising Cabinet posts and policy concessions. If those negotiations are successful, the leader of that party becomes prime minister. If not, the task falls to a smaller faction. President Shimon Peres has until mid-February to set that process in motion, though he could begin earlier.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Black White & Jewish

Rebecca Leventhal Walker was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1969. Her mother, famed black author Alice Walker and her father, Jewish lawyer Mel Leventhal, met at the height of the Civil Rights movement. In her memoir Black, White and Jewish Walker poignantly describes a childhood split between two worlds, particularly after her parents’ divorce: between her mother’s home in San Francisco where she feels never quite black enough and her father’s home in Riverdale, New York where she feels never quite Jewish enough.

Walker’s acclaimed 2002 memoir, which starts with an account of her first birthday, presents flashes of memories that are alternately elating and distressing, and which feel no less urgent one decade later. Her hopes, anger, frustrations, and determination ring loudly from the pages.

In fact, looking for the book in the aisles of your local bookstore is itself an illustration of Walker’s predicament: Can it be found in the "African-American" section, the "Jewish" section, the "Women & Gender" section? Through Walker’s sensitive reflections and astute analysis, we see how restrictive being forced into just one category can be.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Anticipating More Obama-Bibi

By Jonathan Tobin

The final polls before Israel's election were published Friday and the results will provide little comfort to Benjamin Netanyahu's many critics in the United States. All the surveys of opinion before tomorrow's vote point in one direction: Netanyahu will win. Even the most pessimistic estimates of his party's vote shows the Likud getting approximately twice as many seats in the next Knesset as the next largest competitor and the parties that make up Netanyahu's current coalition will gain a decisive majority. Netanyahu will be in charge of a comfortable majority that is, if anything, more right-wing than the government he led for the past four years.

That's a bitter pill for an Obama administration that believes, as the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reported earlier last week, that the president knows what is in Israel's "best interests" better than Netanyahu and which spent much of its time in office battling him. It makes sense to think the two leaders will continue to distrust each other and to quarrel over the peace process and how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

The rightward tilt of the next Netanyahu government and what appears to be the aggressive and confident tone of the second Obama administration in which the president appears to be surrounding himself with people who agree with him rather than centrists or those who have different perspectives both seem to argue for more rather than less conflict between Washington and Jerusalem.

But the doom and gloom scenarios about four more years of this tandem may be exaggerated. There are three good reasons that may serve to keep tensions from boiling over.
The first factor that may keep the conflict in check is something that the controversial Goldberg column made clear: the president may have learned his lesson about the peace process. Though Goldberg and the president both wrongly assume that Arab "moderates" want peace and need to be encouraged with "conciliatory gestures," the writer notes that Obama understands that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is weak. He also knows that every attempt by the administration to pressure Netanyahu and to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians' direction on settlements, Jerusalem and border, was met with disinterest by the PA.

Nothing Obama could do or say, no matter how damaging to Israel's cause was enough to tempt Abbas back to the negotiating table. Indeed, the Palestinians' decision to go to the United Nations to get recognition was not so much aimed at Israel, as it was an end run around the Obama administration.  

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Raised on Hatred

Op-Ed Contributor

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zionism’s New Boss

Under rookie politician Naftali Bennett, religious Zionism is finally becoming Israel’s political mainstream

Naftali Bennett’s press conference late last month was to the Israeli election cycle what a high-speed car chase is to a middling Hollywood action movie. With the chronicle of Bibi Netanyahu’s re-election more or less foretold, Israelis were vying for a shot of adrenaline that would rescue what had otherwise become a bloodless procedural, and Bennett was on hand to deliver.

The chase began on Thursday night, Dec. 20, when Bennett, the young and charismatic head of Habayit Hayehudi—literally, the Jewish Home—a right-of-center religious party soaring in the polls, was interviewed by Nissim Mishal, one of Israel’s most revered television journalists. The veteran reporter wasted no time. He grilled Bennett, Netanyahu’s one-time chief of staff, about his allegedly strained relationship with his former boss. He called Bennett delusional for believing that it was possible for Israel to continue to object to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the face of mounting international pressure. For the first 15 minutes, they maintained a tense conversation, but nothing out of the ordinary for Israeli TV, where interviews are a contact sport and civility a sign of weakness. But Mishal had an ace up his sleeve.

At some point, his tone grew noticeably quieter. “You’re a major in reserve, right?” he asked Bennett, a former officer in one of the army’s elite units. Bennett confirmed that this was true. “If,” Mishal continued, “you were given an order to evacuate a [Jewish] outpost or settlement, what would you do?”

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

State of confusion over state of Palestine

By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN 
Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets at @JSchanzer. The views expressed are his own.

Has the Palestinian-Israeli conflict finally entered the post-Oslo Accords era? In the Middle East, nothing is dead until it’s buried, but several troubling signs are pointing in that direction.
The game-changer was Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ historic mission upgrade at the United Nations General Assembly on November 29 of last year. The upgrade merely afforded the PLO, which sets foreign policy for the Palestinians, status akin to the Vatican as a non-member observer. Since then, however, the PLO has enacted several changes that may make the 1994 Oslo impossible to resuscitate.

Within days of his U.N. victory, Abbas requested that the United Nations begin referring to the Palestinian Authority government as the “State of Palestine.” That may not sound like much, but it means that the PLO has scuttled the Palestinian Authority, the interim government put in place by the Oslo Accords, and the cornerstone of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations since 1994.
The Oslo Accords were built upon the premise that U.S.-led diplomacy between Israel and the PLO would help take the Palestinian Authority from interim government to statehood through a bilateral process.

More from CNN: Palestinian move doesn't solve anything
Here’s where it gets tricky. The “State of Palestine” is not the caretaker government Israel is contractually obliged to deal with in the Oslo Accords. Moreover, the bilateral process stipulated in Oslo has been outwardly violated.

It is perhaps for these reasons that Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a human rights organization in Ramallah, expressed concern about potential “legal and political complications” and a “lack of clarity that needs to be sorted out.”

The complications don’t end there. Abbas recently issued a decree that all stamps (currently under production in Bahrain), signs, and letterheads will be changed to reflect the new name. The move, according to one Palestinian official, was aimed at enhancing Palestinian “sovereignty on the ground,” and was a step toward “real independence.”

The Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, an aid institution more commonly known as PEDCAR, was reportedly the first Palestinian institution to comply with Abbas’ decree. The Palestinian Ministry of Information has followed suit.

Abbas also reportedly ordered new passports and identity cards, which would have “State of Palestine” emblazoned upon them. The Israelis howled with disapproval, and Abbas appears to have backed down for now.

Still, the PLO chief may not be done making moves.

The PLO’s official mouthpiece, WAFA, ran a piece on January 5 stating that, “an earlier decision has been reached [by the PLO] to delegate to the [PLO] Central Council the duties of the Palestinian Authority’s government and parliament.”

If this is true (and two senior Palestinian insiders say it is), Abbas appears to be consolidating power by facilitating the transfer of key components of the Palestinian Authority into the hands of the PLO, which is not subject to public scrutiny in the way that the PA has been since its inception in 1994.
Abbas would never frame it this way, of course. He would claim that he seeks to shut down the PA in the face of continued Israeli settlement construction.

By one count, Abbas has threatened to quit as the PA’s president or simply dismantle the PA more than 25 times. And partisans of the Palestinian cause support him. They say that the Palestinians should not have to ask permission to do anything, not least from their occupiers. They roundly support the notion that collapsing the PA would saddle the Israelis again with the full administrative burden of the West Bank (Gaza, under the control of Hamas is another kettle of fish).

But what Abbas’ supporters – both domestic and international – don’t seem to realize is that, by shutting the doors of the PA, the PLO may be leveraging its newfound status at the U.N. (not Abbas’ elected presidential authority, which expired in 2009) to consolidate power.

The last thing anyone needs is a more muscular PLO. The PA was created, in part, to curb the bloated PLO, which has earned a reputation over the years as being ossified and less than transparent.
One obvious challenge now for Abbas is figuring out how far he can push this agenda without setting off alarm bells in the West.

Abbas is betting that since Hamas is the only real alternative to his rule – thanks in large part to his refusal to help cultivate new leadership – the West will fold. Fearing a takeover by Hamas, even the Israelis are loath to topple him.

But there is still another challenge for the new president of the “State of Palestine.” Winds of war are blowing in the West Bank. Ever since Abbas challenged Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu by upgrading the PLO’s status, the West Bank has been signaling that it might plunge into revolution. Every few days, we see another report of Palestinian violence against Israelis. Palestinian terror groups are calling for a new intifada. And Israeli military officials are warning that one may have already begun.

Conflict is not a foregone conclusion, however. Abbas may somehow find a way to maintain calm in this atmosphere of growing tension. Yet the injection of the “State of Palestine” has created a state of confusion, with the future of the peace process, the viability of the PA, and the power of the PLO hanging in the balance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Morsi’s Slurs Against Jews Stir Concern

CAIRO — Nearly three years ago, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood delivered a speech urging Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. In a television interview around that time, the same leader described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”      

 That leader, Mohamed Morsi, is now president of Egypt — and his comments may be coming back to haunt him.

Since beginning his campaign for president, Mr. Morsi has promised to uphold Egypt’s treaty with Israel and to seek peace in the region. In recent months, he has begun to forge a personal bond with President Obama around their successful efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants of the Gaza Strip.
But the exposure this month of his virulent comments from early 2010, both documented on video, have revealed sharp anti-Semitic and anti-Western sentiments, raising questions about Mr. Morsi’s efforts to present himself as a force for moderation and stability. Instead, the disclosures have strengthened the position of those who say Israel’s Arab neighbors are unwilling to commit to peace with the Jewish state.

“When the leader of a country has a history of statements demonizing Jews, and he does not do anything to correct it, it makes sense that many people in Israel would conclude that he cannot be trusted as a partner for peace,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Representatives of Mr. Morsi have declined repeated requests over more than three days for comment on his remarks. One reason may be that the re-emergence of his previous statements has now trapped him in a political bind. While his past comments may be a liability abroad, he faces a political culture at home in which such defamation of Jews is almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.         

Monday, January 14, 2013

Liberman says he will resign from politics if convicted

January 14, 2013

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would resign from politics if he is convicted of fraud and breach of trust in the current indictment against him.

Liberman, who remains head of theYisrael Beiteinu Party, and is number two on the combined Knesset list of his party and the Likud Party behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Monday in an Army Radio interview that he would resign even if not required to by law.

Liberman would be required to step down if a conviction carries moral turpitude.
Liberman resigned at the end of December as foreign minister, shortly before his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly advancing the position of Zeev Ben Aryeh, Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, in exchange for information on an investigation against him. The charges came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Dec. 13 closed a 12-year investigation of Liberman in other cases.

Liberman 's statement that he would resign if convicted, follow statements last week by his party's number two, Yair Shamir, son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, that Liberman should resign if found guilty.
“A public official who faltered while in public service must make way for those who have not. Whether the offense carries the designation of moral turpitude or not is irrelevant,” said Shamir, formerly an executive with El Al.

“I agree with him,” Liberman said on Army Radio. “I think that there have to be clear norms. Even if there is no moral turpitude, I will not continue in politics. There must be clear norms.”

He added that Shamir will not be penalized for his comments "I have no problems with what Shamir said and Shamir will without any doubt have a senior role in the Likud Beiteinu government,” he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is reportedly the state's key witness in the Ben Aryeh case, and reportedly will testify against Liberman during the trial. Shortly before the indictment was formally issued, Liberman announced that Ayalon would not be included on the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset list for the January elections. Ayalon stayed on at the Foreign Ministry despite Liberman stepping down.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Snow falls in Jerusalem; Israel braces for fresh deluge

Snow began falling in the elevated suburbs of Jerusalem on Wednesday, following a deluge of rain that shut down major arteries across Israel and turned highways into raging rivers on Tuesday.

As temperatures began falling in the capital, there was some accumulation of snow, including 2cm on the ground in both Gilo and Pisgat Ze'ev. This was sufficient for some enterprising Jerusalemites to build small snowmen and to sled on plastic bags.

While public transport is running as per usual, Jerusalem residents have been asked to avoid driving private vehicles after 1 p.m. to minimize congestion.

It was also announced on Wednesday that all of the courts in Jerusalem, other than the Supreme Court, would be closed for anything other than emergency cases starting at 11 a.m. All other scheduled cases were cancelled for the day.

It was unclear if the Supreme Court would remain open all day or also close at some point earlier than usual. Parties with cases were encouraged to check-in with the courts for updates.

Heavy snow was likewise falling on Wednesday in the northern Golan Heights after a meter of snow fell on Mount Hermon overnight. Snow also was falling in Nazareth, as well as in the Galilee, in Migdal Oz and Beit El. The Kiryat Arba municipality sent children home from school for fear that snow would block the road.
At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the national transportation police said that because of heavy snowfall they had closed the following roads in the north of Israel: Northbound traffic from the Shiryon junction, Alrom junction, and Wasset junction, as well as the right lanes of highway 6 heading south from Iron, which is closed because of holes in the asphalt caused by the storm.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Treasury’s First Orthodox Chief

Jack Lew, Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, is the highest-ranking Orthodox Jew in U.S. government history

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Rise of Egypt’s Jon Stewart

The popularity of satirist Bassem Youssef may show that the government can’t stifle public debate

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How Jewish Is Lady Grantham?

Jonathan Sarna weighs in on 19th century Cincinnati Jewry

Monday, January 7, 2013

Report: Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary

The former senator has been a lightning rod for criticism

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Forest in Beersheva to Memorialize Newtown Massacre

Over 2,000 people have donated money to plant a forest of over 3,000 trees in Be’ersheva in order to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre. The trees will be part of the Be’ersheva River Park, a 1,700 acre environmental area being constructed by the Jewish National Fund in the Negev’s provincial capital city.
The idea to plant trees in Israel in order to commemorate the young victims of the Newtown Massacre came from Veronique Pozner, the mother of the youngest and only Jewish victim, Noah. Marcie Natan of Hadassah declared, “Everybody was so affected by the massacre and wanted to do something to express their solidarity with the families. Each of us have had the experience of non-Jews who have found it very meaningful when a tree is planted in the Holy Land. We felt no one would be offended by this and we thought it would be a very appropriate way to honor the memory of the victims.”
Marcie Natan planting the first tree in Be’ersheva
In recent days, a delegation of 15 representatives of Hadassah came to Israel in order to plant the first tree in honor of the Sandy Hook Massacre victims. Natan asserted, “A tree is the ultimate symbol of new life.The initial idea was to dedicate the forest in memory of Noah Pozner, who was among the victims of the massacre at the school in Connecticut and was Jewish, and then we realized that we would like to honor the memory of all the children who were murdered in this horrible massacre. Within a few days our members contributed more than $50,000 and I am proud to be the first person to plant the first sapling in the forest.”
Upon planting the first tree into the ground, Natan stated, “The roots of this mulberry tree will hold the desert soil, produce fruit, and give shade to the families recently under fire who will enjoy the park. Trees are a Biblical symbol of life, and the saplings donated will bloom, grove after grove, in the memory of the children and the staff in Newtown.” Around 7,000 Hadassah members reside in Connecticut, with 230 of them living in Newtown itself.
Veronique Pozner, mother of the youngest victim
In the Newtown Massacre, 20 children and 6 adults were murdered in cold blood by Adam Lanza. Governments around the world, including the Israeli government, have condemned what happened. An Israeli humanitarian aid organization had provided assistance in response to the first responders in Newtown. The residents of Be’ersheva have also suffered from attacks on their schools by Palestinian terrorists thus making the Negev provincial capital city a fitting location for a memorial to the Newtown Massacre victims.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Suha Arafat Exhumes Truth About Intifada

Widow of PLO leader says Second Intifada was premeditated
By Adam Chandler

Last month I had the very specific thrill of getting to see Yossi Klein Halevi in conversation with Leon Wieseltier at a shul on the Upper East Side. In addition to reminiscing about the days when Leon used to sneak into Jimi Hendrix concerts, the two public intellectuals talked a lot about the Middle East.
Both had their share of big insights–I highly recommend seeing them if they decide to tour–but, as some news made its way into my orbit, one comment made by Klein Halevi stuck out to me.
In walking the crowd through the recent history of Israel, Yossi Klein Halevi said that the First Intifada had birthed the phenomenon of “the guilty Israeli.” Klein Halevi didn’t expand on this much, but most likely he meant that this Israeli archetype most likely watched the Palestinian protests of the late 1980s and early 1990s and responded more sympathetically than ever to the Palestinian demands for statehood.
The very next thing Klein Halevi declared was that the syndrome of the guilty Israel had been summarily “cured” by the extremely violent Second Intifada a decade later. In other words, as their buses, cafes, and hotels were targeted in attacks, Israelis understandably no longer placed emotional priority on the Palestinian national quest (even if Israel’s long-term health ultimately relies upon it).
The Second Intifada also caused a new disconnect between Israel’s story and the world’s interpretation of it. I was three weeks into a gap year program in Israel when the violence began in September of 2000 and when I left ten bloody months later, there seemed to be nothing more certain to anyone around me than Israel’s virtue in defending itself against terrorism. But the narrative, unsurprisingly, was completely different everywhere else.
On the college campus, the Second Intifada hadn’t been an act of war unleashed upon an Israeli population whose leadership had just made a generous peace offer and been rebuffed. Instead, according to too many, the Second Intifada had been the response to Ariel Sharon’s offensive visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which had supposedly provoked a war that would last for five years and take nearly 4,000 lives.
The tactic worked. The Second Intifada lent the Palestinian cause countless symbols to massage public opinion with: disproportionate body counts, photos of civilian dead, the birth of an ugly security barrier, etc. A robust campaign to delegitimize Israel was waged, all of which started with a lie.
More than 12 years later, the lie surrounding the inciting cause of the Second Intifada has finally been put to rest. In a surreal interview with Dubai TV (translated by MEMRI), Suha Arafat, the widow of Yasser Arafat, bluntly boasted that the Second Intifada had been entirely premeditated by her late husband. Arafat told her interviewer of a meeting with her husband in Paris in 2000.
“Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him in Paris upon his return…. Camp David had failed, and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.’”
The cause to be betrayed? A peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of Arab rejectionism. Quoting him, she went on:
“‘I do not want Zahwa’s [Arafat’s daughter’s] friends in the future to say that Yasser Arafat abandoned the Palestinian cause and principles. I might be martyred, but I shall bequeath our historical heritage to Zahwa and to the children of Palestine.’”
The historical heritage Arafat bequeathed instead? Violence, death, corruption, graft, Palestinian poverty, and the worst casualty of all for Palestinian nationalism, a partner that could believe in it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

From pirates to dinosaurs, superheroes to baseball, the best of the year’s Jewish-themed children’s books

It was the best of publishing years; it was the worst of publishing years. OK, mostly it was the worst. But it was a remarkably good year for books aimed at the 8- to 14-year-old crowd. I can’t remember another year with such a diverse, well-written, and fascinating crop of books with Jewish themes. Here’s a list of the best of the lot.
As usual this year, I thought most of the picture books were pretty meh. Why are so many Jewish picture books so didactic? Why do they feature tooth-achingly cutesy or smeary-sappy pastel art? Why are the texts so leaden, the rhyme schemes so awkward? Don’t ask why. Just celebrate and buy the few good ones.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. The holiday season can make wee Jews feel like the odd kid out. So, it’s nice to be able to give them a book from a series familiar to the majority culture but aimed specifically at Jewish audiences. Most will already know the gazillion-selling “How Do Dinosaurs” series by Yolen and Teague. In this installment, naughty dinosaurs model bad Hanukkah behavior (a Dracorex dances around maniacally, sticking out its tongue as the text tsk-tsks, “Does a dinosaur act up/on Chanukah nights/when Mama comes in/with the holiday lights?”). Good dinos, of course, sing along with the prayers, take turns with the dreidel, clear the table, and are gracious to Bubbe and Zayde. Charming, oversized, beautifully published. Teague’s illustrations are funny, and your kid will learn new scientific dino names (written in tiny letters alongside each creature) along with good manners. What more do you want? (Ages 2-7)
Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America, by by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Jeff Himmelman. How the hell did I not know the pirate was a Jew? Lafitte led a double life as a dashing privateer on the high seas and a handsome, respected Jewish citizen of Louisiana. He grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the late 1700s, then saved New Orleans during the War of 1812 by foiling a British plot to invade the city. In an author’s note, Rubin explains that after the Spanish expulsion of 1492, many Jews hated Spain and were happy to hire themselves out to plunder Spanish ships. (One pirate-rabbi even had a kosher chef aboard his vessel!) I loved learning about this swashbuckling Hebrew and appreciated Rubin’s thoughtful afterword about Jewish piracy and Lafitte’s ambivalence toward slavery. The book is utterly compelling even though the stately, slightly stilted illustrations (done with Photoshop and paint) are not my thing. (Ages 6-10)